Transport for London allowed Aldwych station one of its periodic reopenings this weekend, with 1940-themed tours of the station and platform to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Blitz.
The tours – which are completely sold out so don’t even try – were arranged to complement the Under Attack exhibition at the London Transport Museum, as explained by museum director Sam Mullins in this BBC clip.
As a part-time moleman who has never been inside Aldwych, I was down there like a greedy ferret in a goldmine. Aldwych, a pointless spur on the Piccadilly Line, closed in 1994 and its history can be read at the wonderful Subterranea Britannica or Abandoned Stations. Ian Visits and Diamond Geezer also have posts about the station.
I’ve wanted to get inside it for ever such a time.
The tours begin in the neat but spartan ticket office, which is decorated with a number of wartime posters giving instruction about shelters and the blackout. You are greeted by an actor playing an Air Raid Precautions officer, whose monologue is interrupted by the forbidding wail of an air raid shelter. You meet three more such actors in the course of the tour, the best being the 1940s housewife who sits in the train down on the platform and can be quite saucy if you ask the right sort of questions.
The chance to poke around the station and listen to actors recreating 1940s stereotypes is all well and good, but the star of the show is undoubtedly the 1938 train that has been brought out of retirement for the occasion.
I’m no train nerd, but this one is a beauty, as I’m sure better photographers than I will record this weekend.
The other highlight is this cracking little souvenir book about Aldwych and the Blitz that is given to everybody who goes on the tour.
The tour ends with a deafening reconstruction of an aerial bombardment, with impressive sound and light, before the all-clear sounds and allows you to climb the steps back to the surface (no lifts or escalators, so prepare for a walk).
A recreation of the ‘Blitz experience’ is an almost impossible thing to pull off for obvious reason and this is neatly done in the circumstances, although it might have been nice to have bunks on the platform to give more of a flavour of what it was like to cower down there for a night.
Interest in the tours have been so great – an estimated 3,000 people will take part this weekend – that the London Transport Museum believe public tours of Aldwych will be reintroduced on an irregular basis in the future.
So that’s one ambition sated, only for another to take its place. Earlier this week I was talking to a curator at the LTM, who told me of his recent tour round Down Street, another abandoned station with wartime connections. It is, he told me, in ‘fabulous condition’. Anybody interested?